Intel Cascade Lake Xeon Platinum 8280, 8268, and Gold 6230 Review: Taking The Fight to EPYC

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Final Analysis

Intel's Cascade Lake is punctuated by 9200-series processors that come with a market-leading 56 cores and 112 threads. But those chips are destined for custom OEM systems only, leaving us to focus on the more accessible high-volume products.

Intel’s standard Cascade Lake models offer many of the iterative improvements that we expect from a generational refresh, such as a step up to faster memory data transfer rates, more memory capacity, higher clock rates, and slightly more performance-per-watt. However, they also lack the architectural refinements that would yield radical changes in performance. Intel does offer a few new features like support for new instructions that boost inference performance and hard-wired security mitigations to address some of the latest vulnerabilities. But the biggest advances involve other platform-level additives, along with Intel's pricing.

Intel bumped up Cascade Lake's clock rates, including the all-important Turbo Boost and AVX frequencies, across the breadth of its product stack. Then it left pricing alone, matching its previous-gen models. Those elevated clock rates build on Intel’s performance advantage in lightly-threaded workloads. Even the 28-core Platinum 8280 can maintain a surprisingly high 4.0 GHz Turbo Boost rate on two cores. That’s an attractive proposition for customers that pay high software licensing fees.

With a hard limit of 28 cores for its standard XCC silicon, the high-end Cascade Lake models still feature the same number of cores, albeit faster ones, for the same price. But Intel also beefed up several key entry-level and mainstream models with up to four more cores and more L3 cache, again leaving pricing untouched.

These are needed improvements in the face of AMD’s EPYC contenders, which cost much less than comparable Intel models while delivering ~85% as much performance in many types of workloads. We saw the EPYC 7601 carve out convincing wins in several parallel workloads that scale well, like C-Ray and NAMD. Then it demonstrated solid power consumption behaviors, besting the competition from Intel. AMD’s platform also has other notable advantages, such as less-strict product segmentation and up to 128 PCIe lanes on both single- and dual-socket servers. That healthy helping of PCIe connectivity is becoming more important for data storage, networking, and accelerators.

Intel’s focus on developing technologies like Optane DC Persistent Memory DIMMs might prove to be a critical advantage. For now, these modules only work in tandem with Intel memory controllers present on Cascade Lake processors. Naturally, the company will enable support in future Xeons. But it goes without saying that we won’t see this technology enabled on AMD platforms. That gives Intel an advantage for data center administrators who need the absolute highest memory density attainable, often resulting in the need for fewer servers. Aside from the Silver series, almost all of Intel's stack supports this memory tech. Intel does charge a premium for the Xeons that accommodate beefier 2.5 and 4TB allocations of Optane DIMMs, though that's worth a bit of extra cost for some customers.

Intel also has the advantage of being a long-term market leader, making it the less-risky choice for administrators. Granted, that advantage is receding as AMD continues to expand (not to mention preparing EPYC Rome processors). The company already has working 7nm silicon in its labs, and the 64C/128T processors are expected to arrive in mid-2019.

In all, Intel’s Platinum processors still offer the highest performance in the broadest range of workloads. But they certainly don’t take home a universal performance crown. As with all of Intel’s recommended customer pricing (RCP) for its data center chips, these prices have little to do with what the company’s largest customers pay after volume discounts. But given that the AMD EPYC 7601 offers nearly the same, or more, performance than the Xeon 8280 in some workloads, Intel’s pricing could use an even tighter haircut.

Overall, Intel delivers an impressive line of data center chips and supporting technologies, and socket compatibility with existing LGA 4367 servers is attractive to customers looking for a faster-than-normal upgrade cycle to reap the benefits of silicon-based mitigations. The majority of Intel's customers will migrate from much older platforms, and those customers will realize incredible performance gains over Haswell and Broadwell-era platforms.

Image Credits: Tom's Hardware


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Paul Alcorn
Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech

Paul Alcorn is the Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech for Tom's Hardware US. He also writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage, and enterprise hardware.

  • Murissokah
    In the first page there's a paragraph stating "Like the previous-gen Xeon Scalable processors, Intel's Cascade Lake models drop into an LGA 4637 interface (Socket P) on platforms with C610 (Lewisburg) platform controller hubs, and the processors are compatible with existing server boards."

    Wouldn't that be LGA 3647? And shouldn't it read C620-famliy chipset for Lewisburg?
  • JamesSneed
    It just hit me how big of a deal EPYC will be. AMD is already pulling lower power numbers with the 32 core 7601 however AMD will have a 64 core version with Zen2 and has stated the power draw will be about the same. If the power draw is truly is the same, AMD's 64 core Zen2 parts will be pulling less power than Intel's 28 core 8280. That is rather insane.
  • Amdlova
    lol 16x16gb 2666 for amd
    8x32gb intel 2400
    12x32gb intel 2933
    How To incrase power compsumation to another level. add another 30w in memory for the amd server and its done.
  • Mpablo87
    The promise or reality
    Cascade Lake Xeons employ the same microarchitectur as their predecessors, but, we can hope, it is promising!)
  • The Doodle
    Slight problem this author fails to tell you in this article and that's OEM's can only buy the Platinum 9000 processor pre-mounted on Intel's motherboards. That's correct. None of the OEM's are likely to ship a solution based on this beast because of this fact. So at best you will be able to buy it from an Intel reseller. So forget seeing it from Dell, HPE, Lenovo, Supermico and others. your in white box territory.

    Besides, why would they? A 64C 225W AMD Rome will run rings around this space heater and cost a whole lot less.